Posted by Tania Kindersley.
The manuscript is sent off. This is only second draft time, so there is still a long road to go. I need to do more reading, and then there shall be third and fourth and fifth drafts. But the main donkey work is done. I am going to take two days off and watch the ponies.
I call my mother and shout at her about the racing for a bit. (I always shout when I get excited.) It is Goodwood, which is always a lovely meeting, but it is also one of the most anticipated races of the year, as the two best milers we have seen for a generation go up against each other. People are dividing into camps: are you Team Canford or Team Frankel?
‘I want Frankel to win,’ I yell.
‘I want Frankel to win,’ says my mother.
As always, I must justify my loyalty. I can’t just be saying things.
‘I love Canford Cliffs,’ I say. ‘He’s a really good horse. He was extraordinary at Ascot. But Frankel, Frankel is a…’
I almost say freak. But that word has too many negative connotations. Frankel is a titan, a mighty masterpiece of nature, an emperor. He has never been beaten. But it’s not only that; it’s the way he runs. When he won the Guineas, he charged off in front, more like a wild brumby than a finely tuned racehorse. This happens sometimes in smaller races; the lovely Hungarian Overdose did it all over Europe a few years ago; but you almost never see it in a classic race.
In the big classics, there are tactics, and waiting games, and clever positioning. Jockeys time the race to the second.
‘Do you remember what they used to say about Steve Cauthen?’ I ask my mother, indulging in a moment of nostalgia. ‘They said he had a clock in his head.’
In top races, horses do not generally roar off into the lead and stay there. On that blindingly sunny day at Newmarket in April, Frankel not only stayed there, he kept accelerating. It was almost as if he were breaking the laws of physics, just for fun.
Of course, he did not always do this. When he was a baby, he used to start off at the back of the field, saunter along for a couple of furlongs, and then blast past five horses in five seconds, with the sort of acceleration that made it look as if someone had thrown a switch. It was a wonderful, paradoxical combination of the galvanic, and the entirely effortless.
He has another thing that the truly memorable horses have. It is a particular kind of action, very hard to describe. It is as if, within his great, raking stride, he has an extra leap. It’s the only way I can put it. He skates over the turf, legs extending and extending, until in the end it is like a great dancing motion. It has some extra, indefinable thing in it.
And, beyond all that, he has something more. It is not just the will to win. Many horses have that; they are pack animals, after all, and the desire to gallop to the front is bred into their bones. It is as if he thinks, in his horsey old head, that he has the right to win. Not in an arrogant way; he is not one of those showy, head-tossing horses. It comes across as the simple belief that there is no other place for him except for the front. It is as if the winning post is his spiritual home.
Frankel is a champion,’ I shout at my mother. ‘And you know how I hate to see great champions brought low.’
Of course, anything could happen. It is racing, after all. Brilliant horses get beat. I still don’t quite believe, almost thirty years on, that Dancing Brave did not win the Derby. He was another mighty horse who made your heart pirouette in your chest.
Last time out, at Ascot, Frankel’s miraculous, raking stride looked slightly ordinary for the very first time, in the closing stages of the race. He won, but not in the streaking, roaring, imperious way he had won before.
Canford Cliffs is a very, very good horse indeed. He is in his pomp. It could just be his day. Or, all the prognostications could be proven wrong, and one of the two outsiders could spring a mad surprise.
‘And Henry,’ says my mother, with a dying fall.
‘And Henry,’ I say.
We ponder the imponderable genius of Henry Cecil for a moment. No one can really say for sure why he is as great as he is. I call him Henry in the way that you call people you admire by their first names, even if you have never met them. My mother calls him Henry because she knows him. She lived in racing for thirty years, after all.
‘Something extra,’ she says, musing. ‘Some mysterious thing.’
‘They say horses just run for him,’ I say.
My mother thinks for a moment.
‘He loves his roses, you know,’ she says.
I think: you won’t get that kind of information in the sports pages.
I think: it would be lovely if Frankel could do it, so we could see a brilliant horse and a brilliant man get what they deserve.
I say to my mother: ‘I’m not sure I can watch.’
Here are the beauties:
(Photograph by the Press Association.)
(Photograph by Alan Crowhurst.)
(Photograph by Edward Whitaker.)
Frankel’s sire, Galileo:
Canford Cliffs’ sire, Tagula:
And the great Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel’s trainer:
There are many reasons to admire Henry Cecil, but one of them is that he is a sporting gentleman. This is what he told one newspaper, ahead of today’s race:
‘This race, it's important the best horse wins. If Canford Cliffs beats him fair and square, I shall be the first person to go up to Richard and say “Well done”.’
Richard Hannon, trainer of Canford Cliffs, returns the compliment:
‘Henry knows what he is doing. He’s one of the all-time greats…It's going to be a hell of a race. If there are any weaknesses in our fellow, I haven't found them. And Frankel is rated the best in the world. But one of them has to get beat.’
(Photograph by the Press Association.)
Clash of the Titans, indeed, between two glorious horses and two great racing men. And don’t forget the jockeys, Richard Hughes and Tom Queally. Today may turn on tactics as much as raw talent:
(Photograph from sportinglife.com.)
Let us hope that the day lives up to its billing, and does not turn out to be a damp squib. Let them all run their race, and come home safe.
And since we are talking about beautiful creatures, and a post would not be a post without the Pigeon in it, here is my very own little champion:
And now I really must stop, before I drown in a sea of anthropomorphic whimsy. If one can have a sea of whimsy. Which I’m almost certain one cannot.